Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sunday at a Mexican Baptist Church...er, Iglesia

My Grandmother's Old Iglesia Bautista
(Cleveland Avenue, Madera, California)
I was thinking the other day about how I used to go to church as a kid with my grandmother.  For a long time, she was the only one in my family that used to talk about Jesus and how much He loved me, and that she used to go to this place called Inglesia.  It sounded like a paradise, like the "Island of Inglesia," where Jesus lived.  I'm not saying that the rest of my family were pagan worshipers, and I did go on occasion to Vacation Bible School with my cousin, probably so my mom could have a break during the summer from our constant whining about nothing to do. However, for the most part, there was not much spiritual foundation-building in my childhood.

If I did go, church was on the weekends when I stayed with my grandparents in Madera, California.  My grandmother would get me up early and we'd hop in my grandfather's pickup and he'd park and wait while we went inside the "Inglesia."  From what I remember, the sign out front looked like it was a handpainted sign from an Our Gang episode, kind of like the "He-Man Woman Hater's Club" sign, but it would be in Spanish, and, lo and behold, one of the words on the hand-painted sign was the word "Inglesia," along with other words such as, "Christo" and "Domingo."

At first glance, Inglesia really didn't look like paradise.  It was in a very old building that really looked like a house...with a church attached to it.  Not big at all.  But we would walk in and I could smell coffee brewing, combined with the smell of perfume that the ladies wore and the Tres Flores hair oil that was popular with Mexican men for their hair.  There were no cookies or donuts; instead, it was pan dulce, which was fine with me.  But, all the grownups were nice, but they all spoke Spanish, so I really didn't know what was going on most of the time.

The other kids did speak English, so I wasn't alone.  We were all in the same boat since their parents or grandparents spoke Spanish, and so they'd drag their mijos and mijas to Inglesia with them.  Some kids I remember well - I remember one kid would repeat the phrase "chuga-luga-chuga" all the time, and another kid liked to wear his shoes on the wrong feet.  One poor kid peed his pants once, but no one made fun of him, fortunately.  Actually, he thought it was kind of funny that he peed.  We'd sing songs about Jesus and we'd learn about Jesus, freaking out silently as the teacher would tell us how He sees us ALL THE TIME. There were two songs I remember in particular:  "Christ for Me" and "Angels Watching Over Me.  When the teacher tried to teach us the latter, she wrote the lyrics on the chalkboard but wrote out "Angles Watching Over Me" instead of "Angels."  It really bugged me, but I didn't say anything.  It's good to know that there are angles watching over me. It's another reason why I remember that song.  

After the fun, we'd have to go sit with the older people, and they'd march us out from the back of the sanctuary (big room with chairs) and have us sit in the front rows.  The preacher, who was a big bald man with horn-rimmed glasses, would then preach in Spanish and would yell at us kids, talking about fish, I thought. He actually was saying "pecado" ("sin) but the only thing I understood was "pescado" (fish), which was one of the few words of Spanish I knew, mainly from playing La Loteria (a bingo game for Mexicans), and El Pescado was one of the tiles on the bingo card upon which we'd place our beans.

After the yelling...uh, preaching, the big bald man with the horn-rimmed glasses would greet us at the door as we left, and would hug me, which was strange to me, because I was used to only being hugged by family members.  I really didn't know this guy, so I stood there like a fence post as he hugged me.  I'm sure he was touched by my warmth.

Even though I didn't understand most of what was said in the Inglesia, I enjoyed attending.  The believers that were there every Sunday were some of the warmest people I knew.  I became friends with many of the other kids, and from time to time when I'd attend, they would remember me and we'd pick up where we left off, which might have been trying not to laugh during the service, or running up and down the hallways after service.

A few years later, this fellowship of believers would come together to help one of their own, who would lose three young boys in a house fire, an event so tragic that even brought my stoic grandfather to tears.  These three boys were also my friends, and I still think about them today, 45 years later.  When I recall the lyrics of "Christ for Me" I can always picture one of them sitting next to me in the classroom singing it with me.

Christ for me,
Yes, it's Christ for me,
He's my Savior, my Lord and King,
I'm so happy I shout and sing!

Christ for me,
Yes, it's Christ for me,
Every day when I go my way,
It is Christ for me!

I eventually learned that it's not "Inglesia" but "Iglesia," and learned about the nature of  the "pecado" in our life.  God's grace at Christ's expense delivers us from it, however, and for that I'm grateful.  Many of those people in that fellowship have since gone to Jesus, including my grandparents (my grandfather too, as he was saved after the fire tragedy).  Last time I was in Madera, I drove past the old Iglesia Bautista on Cleveland Avenue and it was still there.  It looked much smaller than I remember, but still stood, providing a safe haven for a different fellowship of believers.  My hope is that my kids will remember their moments growing in Christ, and think about the fun times learning about Him.

Monday, December 8, 2014

English 1A Reflective Paper

 Making the decision to return to college last year was monumental for me, but that was the easy part.  It was going to be even more of an effort to get out of my house and drag this body to a campus where I would be out of my comfort zone in many ways.  This new adventure would require me to become more organized than before, to submit my life experiences to those instructors who would likely be younger than me in order to learn what they had to share, much of which I have learned in life through experience.  I would be sitting among young people who were the same age as my children, and learning how to utilize the latest technological devices, from submitting assignments online or doing homework online.  There were just some of the few differences that I would be experiencing today than those I experienced when first attending college 37 years ago. 

After completing my first semester, though, it was not quite as traumatic as I thought it would be, and by the time I had a couple of semesters under my belt, I began to have a good idea of what to expect at the beginning of the semester and at the end as well. 

Through it all, today I now find amusing to reflect back on the first day of class and of that which I was anxious.  The moments leading up to 2:00 p.m. on that first Monday of the semester were a little stressful because of my own uncertainty, but I found that I was not alone and for good reason.  The first day of class is usually the day where every chair is filled, surrounded by students lining up the walls in a standing-room-only situation, as students try to add on a class for which they should have signed up for months earlier.  It is a moment of high anxiety for those lucky few who covet that little paper that is bestowed upon them by the instructor, allowing them the permission to grace the doorway twice a week for about eighteen weeks, and receive the pearls of wisdom imparted by their teacher in the hopes of transforming them into great students and, ultimately, fine productive citizens of their communities. 

For these anxious few, the add-on slip is like the golden ticket that young Charlie Bucket sought for coveted tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.  Once the papers are handed down to the lucky few who are standing around, little do they know that they would now have the opportunity to learn from the great mind of Ms. Steele Smith over the next eighteen weeks!  However, like everything else, they would need to participate according to rules of the class which, like in the chocolate factory, were rather simple to follow. 

Although the story line does not emphasize it, one can ascertain that the rules at the Wonka Chocolate Factory were simple:  Show up on time, listen to Mr. Wonka and do all that is required by Mr. Wonka, and do not touch anything that was not supposed to be touched.  For the English 1A class in room LA-106, the rules were equally simple: Show up daily and on time, listen to Ms. Steele Smith and do all that is required by Ms. Steele Smith, although we did not have to worry about refraining from touching anything (or anyone) that should not be touched. 

For me, like the others who had the privilege of planning ahead by having a preferable registration time period, the anxiety began with the uncertainty of how Ms. Steele Smith was going to instruct us.  I knew very little about her; thus, questions loomed:  Will she be a right-wing conservative to the right of Rush Limbaugh, or a left-wing liberal to the left of Rachel Maddow?  Will she be warm as a fresh-baked apple pie, or be as cold as the diabetic foot of a person who ate too much of that pie?  Will she be objective or will she be subjective? 

Many of those and other questions (including why the classroom was so hot) clouded my thinking as I made my way to class that first day, but mostly wondering if (due to my size) if there would be a desk that sat about ten inches higher than the standard desk with a disability glyph affixed to it.  To my relief, there was one available, but it was already claimed by a healthy-appearing young man.  I took what authority I had to lay claim to the desk and kindly asked him to move.  On what basis did I have the authority?  It was over a hundred degrees outside and I was sweating like a race horse, having walked across campus to make it on time, giving him the impression that I was going to collapse on top of him.  By virtue of that glyph on that desk, Ms. Steele Smith made it tolerable for me by organizing workshop groups around me so I did not have to struggle to fit myself in one of the many 1970’s styles desk that were built for people who attended before the Great Obesity Epidemic of the late 20th century, which continues on through the 2010’s.     

I sat down (comfortably, I might add) and looked toward the front of the room and saw Ms. Steele Smith, already greeting the class with a smile on her face that made me realize that she would not be like that cold diabetic foot I mentioned earlier.  In fact, she had a disposition that sent me into a state of relief, knowing that I would not be dealing with a crazy instructor, although I wondered for a second when she claimed to be an old hippie who did not have a problem using the “S” and the “F” words on occasion, along with having clear views of what she believed to the way things ought to be. 

Nevertheless, it was very clear that she was truly in her element as she discussed the topic of English, which was the literature itself, the meanings behind the story, the personality of the writer and how it transcended through their writing, the technical things required when analyzing these writers, and knowing how to convey it to our audience when composing our analyses. 

Subjects such as Aristotelian Triad (or rhetorical triangle) that discussed the balanced of persuasive elements, which were the logos, pathos, and ethos components, were covered along with understanding the need for citing sources and utilizing the proper formatting style (in this case, MLA formatting, which is the style that we use for writing papers).  Inline citations and proper setting of the works cited page were important to my instructor, as her desire for us to learn this correctly was tantamount in our becoming good writers for our college experience.  Other areas of technical knowledge required were subjects such as reading prompts, contextual analysis, critical analysis, prospectuses, and author’s notes, and as we got deeper into the semester, having learned much of the technical subjects, we began to examine our two novels. 

I became more aware of the black experience through Zora Hurston and her writing Their Eyes Were Watching God, once again learning how gifted many African-Americans were in the early 20th century and how for many years, the young people of this country were not able to sit down and read a great novel of a young black woman coming of age in a time when there was little to no hope for people of color.  Through this writing, I learned that there was nothing that a writer includes in their writings without purpose, and that it tends to make a statement of social issues that exist at the time of these writings.  I wish I knew Zora myself because she had a kindred spirit that came out in her work, someone who exhibited an understanding of overcoming so much and yet having passion in encouraging others to overcome.

I learned about the quiet strength of women through the writings of Mary Shelley in her novel “Frankenstein,” which illustrated the difference between male and female privilege in the era when she wrote her novel, and how the entitlement to young men in that time had its consequences; not in the novel, but in real life.  Again, understanding that nothing is written without a specific purpose in mind, the book was an accurate reflection of what still goes on today in the mindset of many young people who have their problems solved for them by their parents, and how it affects the esteem needs of those young people, if not dealt with appropriately.  I did not identify as well with Shelly, mainly due to the privilege that she was born into, which I cannot relate to myself, but what people fail to understand about those in privilege is that they are able to look at social issues in a less restrictive manner, not having to worry about the day-to-day things that the “common person” deals with (such as paying the electricity bill and worry about having enough money).  This freedom does allow for creativity to flow, and for that reason, she changed the literary world and created a new genre of literature that writers are still publishing today.   

From this class, I was able to see that I was doing quite well with my writing skills, having developed my own skills over the course of thirty years working as writer in the medical field in spite of any formal training.  I drafted and published documents that required much care in detailed technical and clinical knowledge, while maintaining medical and legal boundaries that were required.  But one is only as good as they think they are, and to regard myself as one who needs no additional education would be rather arrogant.  In my experience, I have learned that I become smarter when I realize how stupid I really am. 

Regardless of my intelligence or stupidity or experience, my time in this class was a great investment in understanding not only what I’m reading but how to compose my analyses in order to achieve the persuasive results I’m looking for when reaching out to my audience.  There is always room to learn something new, and this class enabled me to do so. 

I end this semester looking back with a smile wondering why I was so anxious on the first day, perhaps like the others looking for their version of that golden ticket.  Through our workshops, the other students and I were able to get to know one another better, and I have made good friendships with more students in that class than I have in any other class.  Sometimes our workshops were spent talking about each other and what we were doing (instead of critiquing the essays at times) but even when we critiqued, we had fun (one person got ribbed for writing the words “pea tree dish” for “petri dish” and “burned at the steak” for “burned at the stake,” and that became the running gag for the remaining part of the semester.  Humor helps us to remember our errors though, and we all had a few zingers to help us remember.

On this last day, I realize that I have my own golden ticket in hand, having had the opportunity to learn how the world can be a better place through literature, knowing that I am a better person with new friends for having taken this class, and understanding that an excellent teacher makes all the difference in creating the best learning environment possible.   For that, I am truly blessed.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

In a Funk

That's me on occasion...with all that's going on I tend to get in a funk at times. My feelings of failure tend to become paramount in my mind and create some serious depression in me.

Now don't go feeling sorry for me. It's not a "boohoo, poor-me" depression, but a lethargic-procrastinating component of depression. I've learned that depression takes shape in many forms, and lack of enthusiasm and motivation leads to that component. .

Okay, I'll be honest:...I get the "boohoo, poor me" junk too...

Lack of enthusiasm and motivation leads to lethargy for me. While I've had a good run in school thus far, earning straight A's doesn't instill that much confidence in me. It just makes me wonder if I was just lucky enough to learn the material easily.  Even with all that, I still don't feel very smart.

That's mostly because before school came along, I was pretty good at failing.  I've failed so many times that I'm a success at it.

That's irony.

But, I'm not alone. Some of the most successful people in life have been numerous failures prior to reaching their pinnacle. I sleep better knowing that, and God reminds me every morning when I wake up that I still have a purpose.

I have a break this week, and while I enjoy school, I'm looking forward to the break. I'm tired and need a battery recharge.  It's all good.  Here's to failure...and success!

Go me.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Winding Down the Semester

Bomb Scare at Campus Earlier This Semester 
A quick entry, since I haven't written anything in so long - at least six months.

I wanted to insert a picture of the campus, but then I found a photo which included the police when we had a bomb scare earlier this semester, just to let you know that it's not boring like most people think college is.  In the fall, we had a shooting in the campus parking lot.  I don't think the assailants were accepted into the police academy, although they did receive an in-service on arrest procedures.  

While I can't wait to see what happens next semester, I'm about three-quarters through this spring's semester.  The spring seems to last longer than the fall, but it's the same - four months of classes.  Maybe it has something to do with the spring weather.  It just proves that time is relative.

My grades are good (five classes - five A's), although it's taken much more work, and the time commitment is greater.  I focused my classes over two days (Monday and Wednesday) but they are L O N G days, from 8-5 on Monday and 8-5 on Wednesday with an additional night class from 6-9 on Wednesday.  My 4.0 isn't a cinch; I have to stay on top of things, but it's looking pretty good, as long as I stay the course.

The exercising and losing weight is at a plateau, mostly from dealing with pain issues, and a flareup of an old inflammation that I had in my leg, so I needed to rest it for a week or so.  I'll be back in the gym this week.  I tried walking around the neighborhood and that worked well, but it's hard to be accountable to a cul-de-sac. Plus, I miss the people at the gym.

I'm registered for the summer (Spanish 2), but I'm waiting to see if that's what I really want to do.  I need a break and even though I'd have a month off between classes, I wouldn't mind taking the whole summer off. It's really a matter of whether I want to get done quickly as possible or just get done, which will happen too. Either result wouldn't make a difference in my career either way.  I want to enjoy the ride, so I may just take the summer off.  Still undecided though; I have a couple of months to think about it.

Buster - 50 Pound Puppy
Also, since we adopted him seven months ago, Buster has thrived.  He's in excess of 50 pounds now, and we're hoping he stops growing.  He's gets funnier with each day and we love him in spite of his bad habits (stalking us through the windows and checking up on us while we're in the bathroom).  At least he doesn't hump legs.

Other than that, the weather is nice, I feel good today, and now all that's left is for me to study for my exams tomorrow, hit the gym, and gear up for the nice spring break that starts the day after tomorrow!

Go me!

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Doggin' It

Disclaimer:  Dog Photos

That being said...it’s been a busy couple of months, with exercise, school, Dodger-bashing (sorry guys), and a new dog (duh).  I find that because of my size and the energy I’m putting into what I’m doing, I need more down time to recover, which cuts into my time on the computer (non-study time).  After putting it off, I’m happy to report that I have some time to blog. 

"Needs a Home" picture of Buster, posted on Instagram
The weight battle is at a stalemate right now.  For some reason, it’s not coming off as it was during the summer.  I been diligent about avoiding fast food and other foods that aren't good for me; however, it could be stress, poor sleep patterns, inconsistent eating and/or exercise patterns may have something to do with it.  But I haven’t worried about it, mostly because I don’t want to have something new to discourage me.  I have plenty of things out there that are working hard to keep me discouraged, and it’s a daily battle to deflect the fiery arrows that come from the actions and attitudes of others who are in a constant state of “what can I do today to discourage John?” mode, in addition to the circumstances that throw themselves in front of me.  It’s that way for a lot of people, so I’m not feeling sorry for myself.  That’s just the way it is.
Buster coming home with Kellie two hours later...

The good news is that college (with the new dog) are great distractions.  College has been a lot of work, but the results show my effort.  It’s nice to see something pay off for once.  Over the years, I've poured myself into things that failed to yield any real fruitful result and this has been a good thing for me to see in my life.  It doesn't pay the bills (well, it does a little…I was able to get some stipend this year for school), but I've determined that I no longer want to go through life spending my time on activities that yield little to nothing like I've done in the past.  That’s why school and exercise are great investments.

I also have to say that exercising and chasing the dog have been helping me in building my endurance from the parking lot to the classroom.  I had a lot of difficulty (really an impossibility) walking from the parking lot to the classroom earlier this year.  I walked like Steve Martin in that scene from “The Jerk” and instead of carrying a chair and an ashtray, I was carrying me and my books.  I'm not skipping through campus, but I can now actually make it to class without stopping and without looking like I’m having a heart attack, although I am on first name basis with the guy who drives the shuttle from the parking lot, and I will gladly flag Isaac down if I’m feeling lazy.     

The face that wakes me up
in the morning...
The best thing, though, has to be the addition of Buster, our dog.  He’s my big galoot.  If there is a breed to label him with, it would be that of an Australian cattle dog.  Or a dingo.  He has a floppy ear, so his ears angle at a perfect 45 degree angle.  We figure that he is probably six months old.  We’re not sure.  He chews a lot, and he has big feet, has an issue with coordination, and is really the biggest klutz, so that’s why we think he’s still a puppy.  We got him six weeks ago, when his picture popped up on my daughter’s friend’s Instagram account, with the caption “dog available.”  My daughter sent me a picture of the post, and I noticed that she commented “Let me ask my dad” below.  My kid is smart.  She knows who the sucker is.  He got into the trash, peed on the floor, chew up tissue, barked when he was put outside, jumped all over me, and wanted to play fetch forever.

We fell in love with him.  Now we’re doomed.
Yes, I love my dog.

So, exercise, school, dog, and who knows what’s next?  We shall see. 

Go me. 


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Find A Way

Sunday afternoon, I was sitting at home, tired from a week of school, working out, studying, doing laundry, constipation, and watching the first 19 episodes of The Walking Dead.  I could never get into zombies, but I was starting to feel like one, although I only bite someone's head off if they look at me wrong...or text me telling me that I need to go to the gym.  As I sat there, growling and snorting, thinking of food, my Coachzilla texts me to ask me what time I was going to work out. Since it was Labor Day the next day and I didn't have class, I told her that I was going to go then, and take Sunday off.

Yeah, right...

I don't remember how the next text message went, as it was apparently traumatizing, but it seemed like it was saying, "if you don't plan on going, you're not going to go, and if you don't go you're a weenie, and so you better go, and when you go, just go some more, and life is full of puppies, kittens and rainbows, and wonderful, you weenie...go, go, go, go.....

AAAGH!!!!  Alright!

So I went.

I was mad.

I was so mad I got on the treadmill walked fast, and DEFIED her instructions to do an easy workout.  She told me to do 30 minutes.  I DID 60.  SO THERE.  HA HA.

In the 31st minute, as I began to approach code blue status, I slowed down the machine and was a little more relaxed, having rid myself of the stresses that climb on board like a bunch of holiday travelers on an Amtrak train, all wanting the same seat.  I breathed easier and watched the closed-captioned television programs on the monitors above to catch up on what's happening in the real world with no zombies (that we know of).

I saw this lady on the news, dressed in a swimsuit and jumping into ocean water to begin swimming.  I said to myself, "that's Diana Nyad...it looks like she's going to try it again."  The "it" was swimming from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, a distance of over 100 miles, and it was her fifth attempt.

Most people associate Diana Nyad with the numerous failed attempts to swim the strait between Cuba and Florida, but don't realize that an inability to cover the distance was not the reason she couldn't finish.

The distance was no big deal.  She had more than enough talent and skill and endurance to make it happen.

It was one specific obstacle:  Jellyfish.
These stupid jellyfish would take a toll on her, stinging her as she swam by causing everything on her body to swell.  Even her lips were swollen. That's what happens when you kiss jellyfish, I guess.

Finally, she and her team were able to figure out a way to overcome the jellyfish through the use of protective gear developed for that purpose. Now, it might have taken 35 years to figure it out, but she figured it out, and, as you can see from the picture, she made it.

Her words of wisdom?  Keep living your dream and if you're not living it...find a way.

Three simple words:  Find a way.

Obstacles are like those jellyfish.  They sting you and you look like crap going through the journey, but you adapt, and over time they don't bother you so much, although Diana walked like a zombie coming out of the water after 53 hours.

Whether it's swimming, fighting zombies, or losing weight:  You find a way...even if that means having someone text you to call you a weenie for not working out.

Go me...


John's Progress

Friday, August 23, 2013

Perfect Storm?

After two weeks of school, working out five days a week, coordinating transportation, trying to maintain a reasonable diet, I can say that I'm rather tired.  But I've lost 15 pounds, got through an automobile crisis, managed to get everyone where they needed to be, and have taken five quizzes, scoring A's on all of them.

Right now, my life can be best described as a fishing boat, fighting through a storm, getting over one huge wave with an even bigger one coming up on the horizon.

I don't know much about fishing, but I would imagine that the captain of that boat would breathe a sigh of relief after getting over that wave, take a quick break to get his senses together and to pray that whatever it is that he needs to get over the next wave at that moment in time is there when he needs it...

Times like this cause me to reflect on the words of a song that I first heard a long time ago...

The anchor holds, though the ship is battered
The anchor holds, though the sails are torn
I have fallen on my knees, as I faced the raging seas
The anchor holds, In spite of the storm

And it's in these moments that my Anchor holds...

Go me...